Listening to BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show yesterday left me feeling deflated.
In a debate about the archaic cliché “the deserving and undeserving poor” the overwhelming message coming back from callers and interviewees seems to be that we should stop giving out state benefits to those who are not deemed to be deserving of them, i.e. those who do not actively try to secure work, those who have ‘too many’ children, those with addictions and endemic social problems.
One particular caller spoke of her belief that the children of these so-called undeserving poor were not at fault for their situation and therefore should not be deprived of the benefits afforded to their parents to care for them. This was met by a counter argument that this was not the way to support these children…but not followed up with any productive suggestion of how the state should intervene to support them and break the cycle of poverty and benefit dependence.
What struck me throughout this debate was people’s inability to make the link between the children in question who are often lacking in balanced diet, education and opportunities; the “deserving poor”, and the adults being described as “undeserving”. These deserving children are the undeserving adults of tomorrow and I can’t help but wonder when and how exactly these callers and politicians will nail down the transition from one to the other? Taking benefits away from this group of people is not going to miraculously fix society’s ills, but rather exacerbate them. So long as we live in a society that seeks to deprive those without skills, opportunities and education, there is always going to be a need for the support workers in organisations such as Simon On The Streets. It will be a fantastic day when there is no need for our service!
Helen, Simon on the Streets
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According to a report out today: “The gap between the poorest pupils and their better-off peers in struggling schools in England is wider than in other schools, research suggests.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14082644
In schools below the national average standard a Sutton Trust study found that primary school children eligible for free school meals were half as likely to achieve their targetted standards as other pupils and by secondary school this had dropped to one third as likely. The BBC news report commented that “these attainment gaps are significantly larger than the gaps between free school meals-eligible pupils in all schools and their peers who are not eligible for free school meals” .
It seems, from the news report, that this is to cause a high level of focus on these underperforming schools, and through them target the children who are struggling. Although this is a necessary measure there is little or no mention of interventions outside of school. From our experience of working with adults who have been undeperforming poverty stricken children it seems obvious that support needs to be offered in the homelife to give any chance at all of positive changes in the school life. It’s a bit like focusing on achieving housing for a rough-sleeper without taking account of any of their other issues. But sadly it seems by the time someone has ended up sleeping-rough or similar they are fairly used to having their life divided up into silos of support need instead of being treated as a whole person.
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Posted in addiction, emotional support, Health, heroin, homeless, mental health, motivation, Poverty, problematic behaviour, rough sleeping, street homelessness, tagged addiction, alcohol, children, emotional support, engagement, homeless, Homelessness, offending behaviour, rough sleeper, rough sleeping, street homelessness, support work on July 12, 2011|
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The Children’s Society yesterday reported on the numbers of pre-teen runaways increasing (link below) and the risks that these young people face once they have fled their home or care. The report noted that a child runs away from home every five minutes in the UK and one in three of these will go unreported.
As a society we seem easily able to understand the impact that this type of thing has on children and how unacceptable it is that they are left in such a vulnerable position. The report also said:
“Agencies are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem and often fail to see runaways as children in need. Yet the report reveals that a quarter of them are forced to leave, often fleeing violence, abuse and chaos at home.”
For us we know these young people who miss out on a good start in life and then slip through the net of services all too often end up as adults with some fairly challenging support needs. The tough bit for us to swallow is when these people aren’t children anymore ‘as a society’ we seem to think differently. But they are the same people with the same traumatic pasts, they simply can’t be seen as ‘helpless’ anymore even though they are officially vulnerable adults.
A few hundred years ago these people were known as ‘sturdy beggars’, and were punished for begging when they were physically able to work. Today society is still obsessed with people’s physical ability to work and blames ‘choices’ to become drug or alcohol dependent adults or their irrational and problematic behaviour as the reason for their situation. As the above shows we have to get away from the physical and have more capacity to work with the emotional and psychological state if people in this situation are to find a way to reach their own potential.
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The recently leaked letter from the office of Eric Pickles (the full letter is available at http://www.bradfordspeakout.org/documents/LeakedletterfromEricPickles.pdf ) has certainly caused lots of questions to be asked regarding the predicted knock on effects of the ‘Benefits Cap’. Whilst being seen as a good thing for ‘fairness’ it is feared that the measure will cause an additional 40,000 homeless families (those families with dependent children being most likely to be capped). The letter also expresses concern that the measures will be a cost to the treasury rather than a saving.
I think the point here is that the concept of fairness is being sold to us as a constant, when it is actually purely subjective. It seems that the people who are likely to be in receipt of benefits that need to be capped (are above average earnings) are those with more children. So the elephant in the room in this debate is a very old question indeed – should those who are reliant on state benefits have the number of children they are allowed to have capped? Almost a hundred years ago there was a serious lobby for a eugenics programme to ensure this didn’t happen (more specifically ‘negative eugenics’ – sterilisation to prevent reproduction- aimed at ‘criminals, paupers and undesirables), and now we are simply trying to price people out of having ‘too many kids’. Is that change good progress, bad progress or simply staying the same?
My concern in all of this is that if we continually try to deal with these kinds of issues by capping, restricting and finger wagging types of strategies, attitudes simply stay the same or become compounded. Surely we need to find ways of breaking cycles not repeating them. If poor kids keep getting poorer the numbers at risk of severe social problems will keep getting worse and we’ll keep seeing a high number of adults with horrific backgrounds.
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